Facebook helps firms strengthen staff bonds

As Facebook membership explodes within the non-student and business communities, PR firms large and small are beginning to make use of the social network's group function for internal promotion, communication, and even employee recruitment.

As Facebook membership explodes within the non-student and business communities, PR firms large and small are beginning to make use of the social network's group function for internal promotion, communication, and even employee recruitment.

Tony Obregon, director of social media at Cohn & Wolfe in San Francisco, administers his firm's global Facebook group, with the intention of sharing news, developing relationships, and creating unity across multiple offices.

Obregon advocates keeping the group open not only to C&W staffers, but also clients, partners, and anybody else who supports the firm's work and culture.

As far as C&W employees are concerned, "the fact that we've all become friends with each other on Facebook has strengthened our understanding of each other," he says. "The cool part is we've been getting individuals who nobody knows; it allows you to explore or discover new groups and people."

Though he admits this online behavior can lend itself to informality, Obregon notes that adding clients to the group has only reinforced its validity. "It's gotten to the point where we've seen enough business folks move into Facebook to use it as a utility," he says.

Jon Cronin, director of digital strategy at New York-based DeVries, started his agency's group - closed to public traffic - specifically to emphasize the importance of the social networking tool in the business world.

"Facebook isn't just for kids or for fun anymore," he says. "It's a business tool." He stresses, though, that groups aren't the places to share sensitive agency information.

"It's more about connecting people to each other outside of the corporate structure, but still connected to the corporate structure," Cronin explains. The main function of the DeVries group, in particular, is to rally staffers around agency events, serve as a place to discuss practice successes, and promote client initiatives.

"We want to include any kind of information about the fun and connective side of DeVries, mixed in with the business side, as well," he adds. "Uploading photos, talking about different issues, and sharing posts from links and blogs related to our business."

Todd Defren, principal at San Francisco's SHIFT Communications, recently created the Facebook "SHIFTers" group as both a place for journalists to seek contacts regarding social-media issues, and as a destination for staff members who may be intimidated to ask him questions directly.

It also serves as a staff-recruiting tool for the firm, he says. Group officers, mainly SHIFT senior management, serve as online contacts for prospective employees.

"You can see there are photos of us in our Halloween costumes," adds Defren. "When you recruit young talent fresh out of school, you want to show them they're joining a fun environment."

Firms may be using Facebook's group function for different purposes, but many PR pros agree that it will continue to grow as an important tool for communication - on varying levels of formality.

"I'd envision there will be more use of [groups] because [PR industry] work is becoming more content-oriented, with videos and pictures," Defren says. "We can potentially use Facebook not only for fun, but also as a place to see our best practices and content across [many] different clients."

Key points:

PR agencies can use Facebook's group function to build relationships across an agency network

Though clients may be encouraged to join, groups aren't a place to share sensitive business information

When using Facebook for recruitment, an agency should display photos that convey its culture and environment beyond work

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